donorflowchart 2014-Oct29
You have likely been in the situation where a current or new donor reaches the $500+ cumulative level of giving, and either the MGO drops everything to handle her, or the donor is handed off to someone who should not be dealing with donors – or the donor just sits in the system and stagnates.
These are not unusual situations, and we at Veritus Group often interact with ones just like this. When you boil down new donor management to its essentials, the two basic questions are:

  1. How should we handle them?
  2. How does new $500+ cume donor management intersect with MGO caseload management?

In the next two posts I am going to address these two questions.
Of course, this discussion assumes you have some sort of a prospect identification system in place. It may be a dedicated staff member with a full array of research tools available to them, or a more basic system that triggers staff to pay attention to certain individuals that come your way. By “prospect system” I mean a process that attempts to discern capacity, interest and inclination of your donors.
But first a little side trip on definitions. Many of our colleagues in major gift fundraising call solid, long-term donors “prospects.” I don’t know where this practice originated or why it continues, because a prospect is NOT a donor. Nor is a donor a prospect.
The definition of a prospect is “a person regarded as a potential customer or donor” – emphasis on the word potential. They have not given yet. They are not donors. Jeff and I feel very strongly about this choice of words: if you regard a good donor as a prospect, you will be looking at them and treating them solely as a source of future revenue. And that is not good, for all the reasons we have explored many times in this blog.
Now by using the word “prospect,” if you mean that a current donor is a prospect for the major giving program, then I can understand the use of the word. For instance, if there is a donor who has given $650+ cume in the calendar year and some research has shown they have a great deal of capacity, then I could see the point that this donor is a “prospect” for the major gift program.
So we come back to handling that current or new donor who has reached the $500+ cume threshold. Here is the process we recommend:

  1. In addition to having a major gift program with MGOs, decide to create a mid-level program, just below the major gift program, to (a) create a pipeline for major gifts, and (b) reduce attrition and increase giving from this important group of donors.
  2. Establish criteria for what constitutes a major donor and a mid-level donor. Make sure these criteria include cumulative giving for a calendar year, NOT a fiscal year. Donors think and act in calendar years. You might start at $1,000+ cume for the major gifts and $500-999 cume for mid-level. If you have a larger active donor file, then this threshold will be higher (or lower if smaller).
  3. Put someone in charge to move these new donors through the system. Do NOT make it a current MGO who is managing a caseload. They need to manage their caseload.
  4. Based on cume giving in a calendar year, put the donor in either the mid-level or major gifts track. In the mid-level track, the point is stewardship and cultivation. The main objective here is to let the donor know – via letters, emails, phone calls, etc. – that their giving is making a difference. The mid-level function we are suggesting here does not replace direct mail solicitation. In fact, it is not a solicitation function. Instead, it sits on top of the direct mail solicitation strategy and simply thanks and reports back to the donor. The major gift system has one important step that precedes cultivation and solicitation: qualification. You will need to contact the donor to determine if they want to have a relationship beyond direct marketing. Once qualified, the donor is then assigned to a MGO for stewardship, cultivation and solicitation.
  5. Note that in the mid-level track the donor can move back solely into direct marketing if they do not want this extra layer of stewardship. In the major gifts track, if the donor signals (by not responding to you or by a direct comment) that they do not want a more personal relationship with you, then they go back into the mid-level and direct marketing channel.
  6. Lastly, if the donor reaches the major gift criteria while in the mid-level program, then that donor moves into the major gift track.

This whole system of managing the current or new donor that reaches the $500+ cume threshold is meant to accomplish two things. First, if any of your donors has reached this level of cume giving, she requires more attention on your part. You need to increase the level of thanking and reporting back. Secondly, you need to have some sort of pipeline for major gifts, and this approach will accomplish that.
All of this falls in line with our thinking that more efforts and more investments in infrastructure (labor and systems) need to be put in place to care for these good donors who have shown they really do care about your cause. Be particularly alert and diligent to make sure this happens.
Follow-up article: How to Migrate Mid-Level Donors into Major Gifts